Free from the COVID-19 case until July 2020, Cross Rivers is steadily recording more cases of the ravaging pandemic. Victor Emeruwa, in this report, examines the consequences and impact of delayed testing on the population.
Marian Market is busy as usual. The early morning rain did not stop the rush for the purchase of goods and food items. Rosemary Isong was in a hurry to restock her foodstuff that she forgot to pick up her nose mask from home. The nose mask has become an essential handy commodity.
Many public places such as churches and market places were mandated to strictly a no – mask- no-entry rule. It appears that the rule has been relaxed at the Marian market or not strictly enforced. Rosemary conducted her shopping at different sections of the market without wearing a nose mask. “I don’t normally go out without my nose mask but I forgot it today because I am in a hurry,” she said.
Just like the relaxed enforcement of COVID -19 rules at Marian Market, other public places within Calabar metropolis are no longer keen at complying with government directive of enforcement of compulsory use of nose masks in public places. The State Government had issued a directive to all public places- churches, market places, restaurants and bars, and public transportation operators to ensure the compulsory compliances to set guideline which includes hand washing points, and the use of nose mask at the point of entries to public buildings. The State government along the directive deployed a special task force to enforce the compulsory use of nose masks in public places.
So far the compliance is yet to be strictly obeyed by the public. Etim Bassey is a transport operator at Ikot-Ansa road. Like many cab drivers, Bassey is trying to make enough money to catch up with the burden of the bill he acquired during the lockdown period: “My brother, it is not easy; I cannot say I survived the lockdown period. It was only God that rescued me from hunger” he spoke as he awaits his turn to pick passengers to the University of Calabar campus gate.
Bassey wore a nose mask, dropped below his jaw when his taxi got filled with passengers; he pulled up the nose mask, adjusting it to his moth level, still leaving his nose free for air, he zoomed off. Onyekachi Okuji is also a cab driver, who appears to be paying more attention to the set guidelines by the State government. His response though, not for the fear of Covid-19, he is more worried about avoiding arrest by the government taskforce team who roam the streets to arrest people who are not ‘masked up’. “I was arrested last week, I suffered, I begged them but they threatened to take me the mobile court when I saw that they were serious I decided to yield to the demand of 15,000 naira,” Okuji revealed.
But religious organizations are complying with the guidelines. A visit to Calabar City Church by Mary Slessor roundabout revealed the cooperation of the church leadership to recommended guidelines for worship. At the entrance of the Church, several hand washing points were constructed, the worship is mandated to wash hands or use hand sanitisers at the entry points, a temperature check is also administered before the Church doors are opened. “You can see that the sitting arrangement is well-spaced, we maintain the space distance required. We have been mandated as workers in this church to make sure that we wear a mask, it is compulsory for all workers, we only observe that new members sometimes do not wear a mask but the church has provided for them, we give them masks to wear” said Ayim Okon, a Church worker.
Madam Esit, a fruit seller opposite the front gate of the mammy market, Ikot Ansa raised doubts about COVID-19, she insists that Cross Rivers has no case of COVID -19, a position once advanced by the state the government. “I have not seen anybody that is sick of that disease, they should leave us to go and find what we and our children will eat, we are hungry,” said Esit. At Atimbo, a populous part of the city, shops are open; people are seen observing normal activities with less worry about wearing. Those who wear the nose mask, wrongly place it below the chin, some hold it in their hands while some put the mask in a purse or packet. “It is difficult to wear the nose mask, I cannot wear it for even 30minutes without removing it, I can’t breathe but when I am inside a public transport or in a group of people, I manage to wear it for that time,” said Bassey Ikoh, a business centre operator at Atimbo.
The COVID-19 situation in Cross Rivers State took a slight spike despite the strict measures to lockdown the State. Cross Rivers was one of the States where inter-state travel was suspended; the borders linking Cameroun and Ebonyin were completely shut. Governor Ben Ayade quickly engaged the State’s garment factory in the production of nose masks to be distributed free of charge. The governor said the factory has been issued to mandate to produce 1million nose masks, face shields, and other protective garments.
The government had initially prevented the team from the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC who were in the state to support the local response with testing. The State’s branch of Medical Association of Nigeria condemned Governor Ayade’s stance on COVID -19 and warned the governor of unscientific utterances.
Agam Ayuk, chairman of the State branch, NMA alleged that there was a deliberate attempt by the government to suppress testing and confirmation of Covid-19 in the State. But Bette Edu, the State Commissioner for Health denied the allegation of suppression of testing. “The State government has already activated testing and contact tracing,” she told reporters in Calabar. Edu is already facing sanctions with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria for allegedly playing politics with the issues of Covid-19. Innocent Ujah NMA National President issued the sanction.
But the rising confirmed cases of the pandemic in the State which has already recorded 84 cases from an index case since July is disturbing. “We need to do more, the response was slow at the beginning but at least we started something which needs to be up-scaled,” NMA State chairman said, insisting that it was unnecessary to play politics with matters of health and wellbeing.
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